A Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy threw a bottle of Jim Beam Red Stag flavored bourbon whiskey into a Henderson field after it was discovered in Deputy Adam B. Hallett’s patrol vehicle.
That bottle is the only evidence of a crime in the latest of a string of alleged misconduct incidents that have plagued the Sheriff over the past year.
It is the one common statement and the smoking gun in two redacted reports released by the County Attorney today.
The sheriff’s report is available here: http://bit.ly/SCAsr2
The County Attorney’s report is available here: http://bit.ly/WLZq5B
Sheriff John P. Burns and County Attorney David J. Paulsen prepared these reports for a special meeting of the Board of Legislators Tuesday, which moved into a closed-door executive session shortly after convening.
After mulling over the reports, the board came out of executive session to vote unanimously in support of asking an outside entity to conduct an investigation into the Dec. 1 incident in which Deputy Hallett was found asleep in his patrol vehicle several hours after he went off duty.
Those reports were released to the media Wednesday with certain names and sentences redacted.
Some of the blacked out names belong to the witnesses who called 911 to report a Sheriff’s patrol vehicle pulled over on the side of County Route 72 in the town of Henderson at approximately 9:00 p.m.
Some of the names, however, belong to a Sheriff’s deputy and sergeant who responded to the call.
The deputy, according to earlier reports, is believed to be Deputy Matthew A. Vaughn, who has been disciplined by the sheriff for not following proper protocol at the scene where Deputy Hallett’s vehicle was discovered.
In his report, Mr. Burns states that, at 9 p.m. on Dec. 1, he received a call relaying that Deputy Vaughn had discovered Deputy Hallett in his vehicle off the side of the road and that Deputy Hallett “appeared to have been drinking,” according to Deputy Vaughn.
At that point, the sheriff asked if the patrol vehicle had been damaged or if any damage had been done to property in the area. He was told no. Mr. Burns asked if anyone had witnessed Deputy Hallett driving or had lodged a complaint against him. Again, he was told no. Mr. Burns then asked was if anyone knew how Deputy Hallett had arrived at his current location. He was told no.
Mr. Burns then instructed that Deputy Hallett’s vehicle be placed in the garage of the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building and that Deputy Hallett be taken home.
When Mr. Burns announced that he was charging Deputy Hallett with an open container violation on Jan. 10, he told the Times that he was not called to the scene that day, nor was he advised of all the circumstances.
Mr. Burns announced he was launching an internal investigation into the matter Dec. 20, after being apprised of “additional information.”
According to his report, the information Mr. Burns received that night apparently did not include any mention of a witness.
However, according to Mr. Paulsen’s report, a 911 call came in at approximately 9 p.m. from a couple who had noticed a Sheriff’s patrol vehicle pulled over to the side of County Route 72 with its driver slumped over the wheel.
The vehicle’s engine was running and its parking lights were on. Deputy Hallett, who is a K-9 officer, had his dog in the vehicle at the time.
K-9 officers are authorized to use their marked patrol vehicles to transport their K-9s to and from their homes and to respond on an on-call basis when a K-9 unit is needed.
“The driver was slumped over the wheel and appeared to be unconscious,” according to Mr. Paulsen’s report.
According to a summary of the 911 dispatch communications, the witnesses confirmed that the vehicle was running, the dog was inside the vehicle, the driver was unresponsive to the point he could not raise his arms, and that when the occupant did speak, he identified himself as Mark Hallett.
A Henderson Harbor ambulance and state police unit also responded to the scene only to be dismissed by Deputy Vaughn.
According to the report, Deputy Hallett told Deputy Vaughn that he had come from his friend’s house “just around the corner” on County Route 123. Deputy Hallett said he was very tired and wanted to go home.
Deputy Vaughn noted that Hallett was “slow in speech and acted somewhat intoxicated.”
It was then that Deputy Vaughn noticed a bottle of liquor in the center console of Deputy Hallett’s vehicle.
Deputy Vaughn removed the bottle from the vehicle, noted that it appeared to have been opened, and threw it into the field, disposing of the only solid evidence of his colleague’s drinking.
Hallett stated that the bottle was a Christmas gift when questioned about it by Deputy Vaughn.
The liquor in the bottle goes unnamed in Mr. Paulson’s version of events but is identified as “Red Stag Liquor” in the sheriff’s report.
Deputy Hallett and the K-9 were taken to a nearby residence until a friend picked them up.
Deputy Hallett’s side arm and shotgun and taser were returned, along with the vehicle, to the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building where they were secured.
Commenting on the sheriff’s report, Michael J. Docteur, R – Cape Vincent, said, “The document speaks for itself. It begs for more information as to what happened that night.”
Robert J. Thomas, R – Glen Park, said he was motivated to call the outside investigation by a desire to relieve the Sheriff of the burden of having to investigate his own department.
“We’re all working as a team, and I want to stress team, to resolve this matter and move on,” he said.
Mr. Thomas, who was a police officer for 48 years and former chief of Brownville, Dexter, and Glen Park, added that “this is a big distraction,” and that he wanted to allow the sheriff to resume his primary duties and allow the “excellent men and women” of the department to operate unfettered by the taint of scandal.
“I don’t have any problem with John Burn’s leadership,” he said.
Mr. Thomas was the second legislator to motion to approve the investigation, following Scott R. Gray, chairman of the Finance and Rules Committee, who has been the most outspoken proponent of an outside investigation since the subject was first broached following a $50 million lawsuit filed by Deputy Krystal G. Rice against the department in April 2012.
Ms. Rice claims she was deceived into posing nude for photographs to be used as part of an online pedophilia investigation. Ms. Rice claims she signed a contract agreeing to the pose for the photos for use in the investigation, provided the photos be returned to her upon request. The photos apparently went missing, along with the contract, which entitled her to receive $1 million per missing photo. She contends there are 50 photos unaccounted for.
That incident occurred in 2006. In Nov. 2012, much of the suit was dismissed by State Supreme Court Justice James P. McClusky, who ruled that the one year statute of limitations had expired on several of the claims
Mr. Thomas is not the only county official supporting the sheriff.
Ronald H. Cole, chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Committee and another former police chief, was at the board special session Tuesday night to lend his support to Mr. Burns.
Mr. Cole acknowledged that the incident was a difficult one for the sheriff. “The deputy had alcohol in the vehicle and that’s a no no... Law-enforcement personnel are held to a much higher standard.”
Mr. Docteur also said that he would like to have seen Sheriff’s deputies holding their peers to the same standards they hold the public.
Mr. Cole said that he believes Mr. Burns and the county District Attorney’s office did the best they could with the evidence they were provided by personnel on the scene.
Acknowledging that this incident has become something of a lightning rod for the Sheriff due to the build-up of accusations of misconduct over the past year, Mr. Cole still thinks that the sheriff will weather the storm.